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Photo by Benjamin Swift, Andes & Amazon Semester.


Each morning during our trek in Ausangate we started the day with the same ritual. Our guide, Miguel Inti, would pour agua florida on our hands (which needed to be bare, a challenge for the group members who had smartly bought dishwashing gloves in Ocongate for rain protection, and for Kesh, who had expertly plastic-bagged her hands for the same purpose). We slapped our hands together three times, once for each of the three worlds of the Andean cosmovision, holding our hands to our faces to take in the strong scent, and spreading the agua florida from head to toe. On the second day, Miguel Inti performed the ritual for me, giving me extra protection as I suffered from altitude sickness. We then all knelt to the ground, pressing our hands to the earth and becoming one with la madre tierra. Miguel Inti prayed to Pachamama in a mix of Spanish and Quechua, praising her and the sacred mountains: Apu Ausangate, Machu Picchu, and Winay Picchu. We asked Tata Inti to bless us with sun during the rainy season.

During each of these morning circles I would not have considered myself happy to be awake. The altitude made it hard to sleep and the still-dampness of my trekking clothes from the day before made me want to layer up far more than necessary. But I reminded myself of the often repeated mantra: be bold, start cold. I knew that a few minutes of hiking would warm me up, and that Tata Inti might even bless us with a few hours of sun before my rain jacket got soaked through again. As we began to move forward I let the sound of Miguel Inti’s flute guide me, fueled by my favorite concentrated coca candies from La Paz and by the footsteps of my friends in front of and behind me. The shortness of breath and nausea brought on by the altitude were nothing against the backdrop of the most magnificent snowy mountains I had ever seen. As we reached camp (check out the tiny orange tents in photo 2), I praised Pachamama and the Andean spirits of past and present for getting me through, along with my fellow Dragoncitos.